However, officials say there are also fewer disappointed candidates looking for places this year because the results were better than expected.
Three days before the opening of the official clearing process, which matches students to places, just 100 of the 200 universities and colleges in the Universities and Colleges Admissions System have indicated that they are still looking for students.
Any other universities or colleges which want to pick up students through the clearing process must inform UCAS by tomorrow.
Almost one-fifth of the vacancies are in engineering and technology, which have declined in popularity in recent years. A further 14 per cent are in mathematical sciences, and 12 per cent in physical sciences, both of which find recruitment difficult.
More surprisingly, 15 per cent of the spare places are on popular business and administrative studies courses and a further 10 per cent in social studies, which are often full by this stage.
Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, said it seemed that there would be fewer places than usual this year in clearing but it was difficult to judge by what proportion.
The University of Durham still has places in all the three main sciences, as well as in engineering, geology, archaeology, classics and Russian. Geoffrey Thrush, deputy registrar, said students would be well advised to phone regularly because the situation was changing daily.
Both the number of applicants and the number of university places have grown dramatically. Statistics published today by the Universities Statistical Record show that full-time students increased by more than one- third between 1988 and 1993.
The Independent is sponsoring a free BBC Student Choice helpline service for students looking for a university place, along with UCAS, the Department for Education and the Department of Employment. The line will be open from 10am until 6pm every day until Friday, and the number is 0500 505050.Reuse content